Sunday, November 30, 2014
Yet, other aspects of the film feel old-fashioned, more like a macho action picture than an unflinching gaze into the ugly side of war. It's a dirty, bloody job, but it takes real men to do it, and you better toughen up quickly because your crew members are counting on you. Fury is the marriage of these two sensibilities, and it's not entirely successful. It's hard to get pumped up when ghastly things happen to people, and it's difficult to accept the notion that some serious point or message is being delivered by the movie when the minimal plot, along with the characters, feel off-the-shelf. Still, in its depiction of action, atmosphere, and look, along with support from its able cast, Fury is an achievement.
World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle famously wrote from the "worm's eye view." He emphasized the grunts and their hard life as they slogged through the cold and mud, and Fury shares that perspective. There's no larger strategy or sense of what World War II was all about; Fury limits itself to the crew of a tank called "Fury" as they slog through the countryside trying to survive. Members include star Brad Pitt as Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier, Shia LaBeouf as Boyd "Bible" Swan," Michael Pena as Trini "Gordo" Garcia, and Jon Bernthal as Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis. Early on, they are joined by a rookie, clerk Norman Ellison played by Logan Lerman.
This event leads to the long-running intra-squad conflict. Norman feels he's not up for this job and wants out. Wardaddy tells he's got no choice and had better get his act together. Next time Norman freezes up, it might their own tank that goes up in flames. They got one job: kill Germans, and that's what Wardaddy is going to get Norman to do. Eventually, gradually, Norman finds himself fitting in.
Fury works better in its action scenes. Several American tanks drive through the countryside and through a town, their crews never sure when an ambush might happen. The first big battle shows the tanks advancing across a field as infantrymen hang behind them and use them as cover. Later, three (well, four) tanks square off against one German Tiger, and the Americans have to rely on speed, numbers, and maneuverability to get behind the Tiger to hit its weak point; when so many tanks in movies stay in one place and trade shots, these scenes display a strong, kinetic energy.
The final battle, as the men of the broken down Fury stand against hundreds of SS troops, goes on too long. It's hard to buy that five guys with dwindling ammunition and no mobility would be able to hold off an entire column of soldiers as long as they do, especially when the Germans have bazookas and sniper rifles (the Germans are shown carrying Panzerschrecks early, but they wait a long time to deploy them). The initial surprise - playing dead to lure in as many as possible - works, but once again, the scene goes on and on until its impact is muted. The sight of Brad Pitt manning a machine gun turret as explosions go off all around him feels more like the posturing of an action movie than a desperate fight to death, especially when he takes to taunting the German attackers.
To be better, Fury needs either a longer running length or a shorter one. A longer length would allow more time and space for the characters to breathe and develop, and a shorter length would have focused on the action and been snappier. The period details, along with the grit and grind of tank life, are strongly realized and make the movie worth watching, but the film could have been more.